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Sunday, January 16, 2022


Raekwon celebrates roots in ‘Shaolin’

Raekwon’s fifth solo album “Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang” was released today. The album goes back to the Wu-Tang roots of Staten Island. | Wikimedia Commons

For Corey Woods, 1995’s “Only Built For Cuban Linx,” also known as the “Purple Tape” for its distinctive cassette color, marked both the greatest and worst moment of his career. From then on Woods, better known as Raekwon the Chef aka Lex Diamond, would be judged by how well he could recapture the mafioso spirit of one of hip hop’s most lauded albums of all time.

The album transformed hip hop in the mid-90s from the 40-chugging, bandana-wearing west coast funk to the east coast’s drug kingpin, with mafia-like tales of street hustle and narcotics distribution. Everyone from Jay-Z, Nas and the late Notorious B.I.G. adopted the style and built legendary resumes.

As one-ninth of the highly influential Wu-Tang Clan, Raekwon struggled for 14 years with the pressure of duplicating the impossible. After the disappointing “Immobilarity” and “Lex Diamond Story” and years of label setbacks and delays, 2009 saw the much-anticipated release of “Only Built For Cuban Linx II” to favorable reviews.

“Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang” was originally intended to be the Wu-Tang Clan’s sixth group album, but dissatisfied feelings from Raekwon and Ghostface Killah toward the group’s leader RZA and his new production style caused the removal of RZA from the project — that later became Raekwon’s fifth solo album.

Wu-heads know they’re in for something special right off the bat when Scram Jones produced the album’s namesake; it begins with the familiar kung-fu vocal samples in the middle of a battle arguing over the Shaolin stealing the Wu-Tang’s sword style.

Rae represents the Wu-Tang style coming back to its gritty roots and away from the bright lights of Cristal popping, mink-wearing mafia tales. Raekwon is trying to bring the Wu-Tang back to its Staten Island training ground, Shaolin.

The kung-fu influence is heavy throughout the album and shines brightest on “Chop Chop Ninja” and the album’s first single, “Butter Knives.” The former features production that provides a simple drum-looped beat with sounds of a kung-fu battle in the background while Rae and fellow Wu member Inspectah Deck spit stories that perfectly capture the essence of Raekwon’s vision for the album.

Rae begins with “He threw a kick at me, I back-slapped him, pulled out the Mack/he kicked it out of my hand, how real is that,” illustrating Rae’s return to the Shaolin temple not as a student, but as the battle-tested Shogun who wants his reins back but must contend with up-and-comers.

Rae is known for being at his best when he tells detailed stories of capers with his unique slang and often spoken flow. “Snake Pond,” “Ferry Boat Killaz” and the memorable “Last Trip to Scotland” featuring G-Unit’s Lloyd Banks, provide so much cinematic visual that Quentin Tarantino wouldn’t know which to steal first.

Chef’s album wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t feature his favorite co-star Ghostface Killah and your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper Method Man. Meth channels the spirit of all 36 Chambers with his assault on “Every Soldier from the Hood” and “From the Hills.”

The Queensbridge MC, Nas gets his pro-black movement on with Raekwon on “Rich and Black.” The two legends trade verses between Louis Farrakhan speeches. The album also features appearances from Rick Ross, Jim Jones, Busta Rhymes and Black Thought of the Roots.

If you told someone seven years ago that Raekwon would be one of the Wu-Tang’s models of consistency, they’d look at you like someone from 2011 hearing Charlie Sheen was getting a father of the year nomination. His persistence and loyalty to his craft weathered him through the storm, and now the Shaolin shadowboxer is home free.

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